Michelle Shephard (Toronto Star's National Security reporter): I think that New York Times article [Jo Becker and Scott Shane's "Secret 'Kill List' Proves a Test of Obama's Principles and Will"] has actually changed the way that people are now reporting on the drone program. It revealed that the Obama administration actually counts anybody who's of military age that's killed in a certain region where al Qaeda is known to be as a militant. So, in other words, the only way to prove innocence is after death and proving that they weren't in fact involved in the terrorist group.
Chris Woods (Bureau of Investigative Journalism): Any adult male in Waziristan, we're told is fair game. And the only way a civilian can be identified is after the event and posthumously. Actually, even there, when we've supplied the CIA with named civilians they have killed, they've spat it back in our face. Civilians have no chance of being recognized as such by the CIA under their present methodology.
Richard Gizbert: According to the US government's methodology, 16-year-old Tariq Aziz was a militant. According to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, he was in Warziristan armed with only a camera given to him by a Pakistani human rights organization to document drone strikes and their impact on Pakistan's civilian population.
Shahzad Akbar (Foundation For Fundamental Rights): This young boy, Tariq Aziz, when he goes back after the training, three days later he is killed. And when we say this thing to the media reporters and we file a case about this, what we get to hear from CIA is that they completely deny. They say that they have killed a 16-year-old boy but he was a militant.
Richard Gizbert: Tariq Aziz is just one case. The Bureau of Investigative Journalism says there are 320 cases like his in Pakistan alone. And those are just the names they know about. More civilians have been killed in drone strikes in Yemen and Somalia. Yet the Obama administration maintains that no more than 60 civilians have been killed by drones in Pakistan and that is the figure that often gets reported.
Jameel Jaffer (American Civil Liberties Union): One of the really frustrating things is that there are still media organizations in spite of that New York Times story that continue to just recite the government statements about how many militants were killed or how many civilians were not killed
CNN news clip: Privately US officials say the covert strikes are legal.
Jameel Jaffer: Without making clear that the government uses the word "civilian" in this very unusual way and that it uses the word "militant" in this very unusual way.
Richard Gizbert: The uncritical use by most of the US media of the administration's numbers, its narrative, is part of a disturbing trend in American journalism that news consumers have been seeing in the post-9/11 era. When it comes to matters of national security and intelligence, the government plays the access card and most journalists play along.
Lara Logan (CBS News) news clip: But our 60 Minutes team was given secret clearance and unprecedented access.
Shahzad Akbar: So how it works normally is that they talk to individual reporters and leak information and then that reporter does not name the official who has leaked it but everyone in journalistic community knows that it's CIA source which is leaking that source.
Chris Woods: It's a rewards based system that we've seen emerge in Washington where -- national security correspondents in particular -- if they play the game, they get the goodies. They get the morsels. But when you stop playing that game, if you don't even play that game to start with, you're cut off at the knees. You don't get access.
Michelle Shephard: And there hasn't been any challenging. No one has challenged the numbers or any of the important issues such as the legality of the program itself. I think thankfully that has changed but only recently. And considering how long the program has gone on, I think that's surprising.
Barack Obama news clip: Actually drones have not caused a huge number of civilian casualties.
Richard Gizbert: The White House did not even confirm the existence of its drone program until just six months ago. That was not under questioning from the American news media. President Obama made the admission during an online Google talk forum. Since then journalists like NBC's Brian Williams and CBS' Scott Pelley who are paid millions to anchor network news shows had prolonged interviews on national security with both the president and his CIA Director [to clarify, Pelley interviewed Leon Panetta -- former CIA Director, currently Secretary of Defense -- the current CIA Director is David Petraeus] but neither journalist asked a specific question about the drone program.
Brian Williams news clip: And the First Lady? She's at dinner?
Scott Pelley news clip: It turned out the lightest thing on board was the heart of the man with a world of worry.
Chris Woods: The inside the situation room was hagiography at its worst. I mean, [the late Nicolae] Ceausescu [General Secretary of the Romanian Communist Party and President of Romania] would have been proud of that had it appeared on Romanian TV two decades ago.
Barack Obama news clip: Good job, national security team.
Chris Woods: It was an appalling, appalling piece of television.
Brian Williams news clip: In your official life, where does this day rank?
Chris Woods: It's a particular sycophancy among particularly broadcast journalists in Washington right now towards administration figures.
Jameel Jaffer: The vast majority of that coverage has been extremely deferential -- not just failing to ask questions but essentially glorifying the program.
Scott Pelley news clip: But Leon Panetta has held the toughest jobs in Washington and quietly done what seems impossible.
Jameel Jaffer: And part of the reason that the United States is now at war with more countries than even Leon Panetta can manage to remember in a TV interview.
Scott Pelley news clip: And how many countries are we currently engaged in a shooting war?
Leon Panetta news clip: [Laughing] That's a good question.
Shahzad Akbar: Why don't we see President Obama or Leon Panetta in an interview where he's actually asked some strict questions and not that how great it is and how much time they spend on selecting a target to kill? Can we go a bit further to explain that these 3,000 people who have been killed in drone strikes, who exactly are they and what was the level of their militancy and what was the threat they posed to the US?
Earlier this week, former US President and fellow Democrat Jimmy Carter also made an outspoken attack on Obama's counter-terrorism policy. In a New York Times article, Carter said of the covert drone strikes 'We don't know how many hundreds of innocent civilians have been killed in these attacks, each one approved by the highest authorities in Washington. This would have been unthinkable in previous times.'
Saying that the United States had lost the right to speak with moral authority on foreign affairs, Carter urged Washington 'to reverse course and regain moral leadership according to international human rights norms that we had officially adopted as our own and cherished throughout the years.'
The Drone War's not getting the attention it deserves and we note it here from time to time. All the above can be seen as applying to US coverage of Iraq -- the reliance on officials, on officials figures, the failure to ask questions, etc.
Prashant is the Baghdad Bureau Chief and clearly he was aware of the other numbers. He could include them in a Tweet. One wonders why AFP wasn't able to include them in an actual news article? Sunday Margaret Griffis (Antiwar.com) reported her outlet's count: 544.
Of course, a month with over 400 deaths? That doesn't imply the Iraq War is over, does it?
My name is Penny Evans and I've just gone twenty-one
A young widow in the war that's being fought in Vietnam
And I have two infant daughters, I thank God I have no sons
Now they say the war is over but I think it's just begun
In February 2012, the Iraqi government released its official figures for casualties from April 2004 to the end of 2011. It had over 69,000 deaths for that time period. That count was 30,000 less than other organizations that keep track of violence in Iraq. During the height of the civil war, the country's ministries' numbers were comparable to other groups, but since 2011 they have consistently been the lowest. While some Iraqi politicians have claimed that the official counts miss many deaths, it could also be argued that the statistics are being politicized by the prime minister who controls all of the security ministries. On February 29, 2012, Iraqi government spokesman Ali Dabbagh announced the government's numbers for deaths in the country. He said that from April 5, 2004 to December 31, 2011 69,263 Iraqis were killed. 239,133 were also wounded. The deadliest year was 2006 when there were 21,539 dead, and 39,329 wounded. 2011 was the least violent with only 2,777 casualties. Of the nation's eighteen provinces, Baghdad was the deadliest with 23,898 dead for the reported time period, followed by Diyala, Anbar, and Ninewa. Muthanna in the south was the safest with only 94 killed over the seven years covered. A member of parliament's human rights committee immediately criticized the report. The deputy claimed that there were thousands of people who disappeared during the civil war that were never counted. He also said that out in the countryside, reporting to the ministries was poor. No numbers on violence in Iraq can be anywhere near complete. During the civil war from 2005-2008 there were sections of the country that were too dangerous to enter and do any serious reporting. Some insurgent groups also buried their victims. The problem with the ministries numbers however are that they are so far below other organizations that keep track of violence in Iraq, which was not always true.
It's a shame Prashant wasn't aware of the article. Oh, wait. He was. And Joel Wing reminded him of it yesterday.
I don't know what Prashant's been smoking in Baghdad but after Nancy A. Youssef got her scoop (in Knight Ridder's final days before becoming McClatchy) that the US was keeping a count (they'd denied it previously) that figure was regularly included in the State Dept reports. Those reports continued through 2011. Possibly he was unaware of them. I have no idea what he's Tweeting about with his claim that the "US miltiary felt compelled to release their figure" in 2010. Again, the US kept toll of Iraqis dying from violence was included in the State Dept reports. These were usually weekly though they did drop to bi-weekly and less in the final year (2011).
Sunday, W.G. Dunlop (AFP) reports, "Iraqi women face court-ordered virginity tests that often show they were virgins until marriage but shame them nonetheless, doctors at an institute that carries out the tests and a lawyer said." He quotes Amnesty International's Marianne Mollman stating, "The issue of virginity testing, and forced virginity testing and sort of legal virginity tests in court proceedings or in other ways, violate a whole host of human rights and are just not justifiable. Even if it were legitimate to look at whether women were virgins for whatever reason, which it's not, you can't use a virginity test for that, because the hymen might break for any reason." Anna Breslaw (Jezebel) notes, "The Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and the Iraqi Women's Association are all doing their best to eliminate this practice as the status quo, claiming it's both inhuman and ineffective."
While many have remained in Iraq, millions have chosen to leave. That includes the brain drain period -- where Iraq lost a large number of doctors, nurses, attorneys and other professionals in the earliest years of the illegal war. In 2006 and 2007, as the ethnic cleansing took place, many more began fleeing.
Despite false claims, there has been no great return. Some people flat out lie and others apparently don't understand UN figures on IDPs are not UN figures on Iraqis who have left the country. Owen Bowcott (Guardian) has two reports on Iraqi refugees. From his first one:
Hind Abed sees her husband every day – in Colnbrook detention centre, west London, where he is detained under threat of deportation. Together they can listen to the sound of planes departing from nearby Heathrow airport.
The 18-year-old fled with her family from bombings and gun attacks in Baghdad. They arrived in Britain five years ago and Abed has been granted indefinite leave to remain. Last year, she married Anwer al-Zaidi, 28, in an Islamic ceremony; she is a Shia Muslim, he is a Sunni from a different area of Baghdad. Her family, she says, does not approve of the match.
"I love him," she said, "but if he is sent back to Iraq, he will be killed.
The Iraqi parliament has banned the forced return from Europe of tens of thousands of failed asylum seekers and threatened to fine airlines that take part in deportation programmes.
The unilateral declaration has already resulted in deportees being turned back at the border, according to the London-based refugee support organisation that has lobbied for the policy change.
For the past year, the United Kingdom has been unable to remove Iraqis, even after they have lost the right to remain in Britain, owing to legal disputes over their reception at Baghdad airport and the state of security within Iraq.
Though the United Nations has repeatedly noted it is not safe for Iraqis to return, many host countries have ignored that reality. And in the United States, the target goals set for Iraqi refugees remain unmet.
The political crisis continues, Al Mada reports that an Iraqiya spokesperson says that the tolerance of nondemocratic moves by the government is hurting Iraq and that, when Nouri al-Maliki is questioned before Parliament,, this will become even more obvious. The spokesperson says when, not if. Alsumaria interviews State of Law MP Haitham al-Jubouri who insists taht the Sadr bloc has abandoned efforts for Nouri to appear before Parliament for questioning and that it wants to work with Nouri. The Sadr bloc is not part of State of Law and State of Law is Nouri's political slate so the announcements regarding the Sadr bloc will continue to come from Moqtada and his spokespersons, not from State of Law. Kitabat reports on Moqtada al-Sadr's statements which were that he worries this may not be the time for a no-confidence vote and where he says he would favor reforms. Of course, he would favor reforms. He's said that for how many months now? Does State of Law think no one pays attention? He wants the Erbil Agreement returned to. There's nothing new in his statements -- which were in reply to a follower online. Al Mada reports that Nouri is still pushing his recent interest: a national conference. He wasn't interested in it from December through most of June but, suddenly last week, he became interested. The newspaper reports he's pushing Ibrahim al-Jaafari to head it. Nouri knew this would cause conflict -- the Kurds and al-Jaafari have been publicly at odds since 2005. (At odds much longer but it went public in 2005. They began fighting against his receiving a second term as prime minister at that point.)
Meanwhile remember when Little Saddam (Nouri al-Maliki) forgot he was a puppet and thought he could demand that the White House get ExxonMobil to drop their deal with the Kurds? Silly puppet. Administrations dance for oil corporations. Dar Addustour reports that US Vice Presidetn Joe Biden phoned Nouri on Thursday to express the US government's belief that Nouri needs to stop trying to halt that deal and that Nouri was informed that the F-16s Iraq 'needs' will not be supplied if Nouri doesn't stop trying to halt he ExxonMobil deal. It's amazing. Torture cells didn't bother the White House. Killing gay men and men suspected of being gay didn't bother the White House. Attacking Iraqi youths didn't bother the White House. But when a billion dollar ExxonMobil deal was threatened, suddenly the White House is ready to pull the F-16s.
In other news, Mark Bentley (Bloomberg News) reports that the Turkish government is stating that its war planes have bombed "three positions of the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, in northern Iraq." AP adds, "It was the latest Turkish air campaign against the rebels in Iraq since the killing of eight Turkish soldiers along the border around mid-June." AFP notes the announcement here. Aaron Hess (International Socialist Review) described the PKK in 2008, "The PKK emerged in 1984 as a major force in response to Turkey's oppression of its Kurdish population. Since the late 1970s, Turkey has waged a relentless war of attrition that has killed tens of thousands of Kurds and driven millions from their homes. The Kurds are the world's largest stateless population -- whose main population concentration straddles Turkey, Iraq, Iran, and Syria -- and have been the victims of imperialist wars and manipulation since the colonial period. While Turkey has granted limited rights to the Kurds in recent years in order to accommodate the European Union, which it seeks to join, even these are now at risk." AP notes the Turkish government is claiming 24 PKK killed last week.
So this becomes not only a problem for privacy and control because I certainly would not put my medical records up on a billboard in Time Square, but it also becomes a problem for dissidents and for people who are working for freedom in dangerous parts of the globe. You may have heard a few years ago there was a fairly high profile case in which Google was hacked into by the Chinese and the people whose e-mails were hacked -- these were G-mail accounts and Google searches and all the records that Google keeps. They were hacked, we believe, because the Chinese government wanted to identify dissidents so that they could round them up and lock them up. People whose identifies that they were not able to get otherwise.
Michael Ratner: Yeah, it's absolutely creepy, Katherine.
Dr. Katherine Albrecht: I was going to say, Michael, when people say, 'If you're not doing anything wrong, why should you care?' Alright, we've heard this a thousand times. Well let me you that if a woman is -- feels a lump in her breast and suspects she might have cancer, if a woman is going through a miscarriage and needs some counseling, if-if a man if his prescription drug use might be tipping the scale over into addiction, if you are in the process of losing your home, or maybe you're looking for unemployment insurance, you're not doing anything wrong but you certainly don't want that information out there in a giant data base where it could fall into the wrong hands or even where Google itself could have it. Why would I want anyone to know this personal information unless I chose to disclose it? So when people say 'you're not doing anything wrong,' I say, "No, we've all got a line of what's private and what's public. And it's not about right and wrong. That is a fake argument. That is an argument that these people will give you when they want to invade your privacy and they want you to suck it up and accept it. And we've got to get passed 'I'm not doing anything wrong' and we've got to get into, "It's none of your blank business."
Heidi Boghosian: Now Katherine that brings up the issue, for example, of attorney - client privilege if there are communications through G-mail, for example.